Stick a Fork In It, This Career Is Done!

Posted: June 29, 2017

Topics: News, Culture

On June 30th, I hang up my excel spreadsheets, Nielsen ratings and SRDS reference books to ride off into the sunset of retirement. After 40+ years in the media/advertising business, it seems time. So as my last hurrah, here are some closing thoughts on the good, the bad and the ugly of this crazy business.

  • The Good
    • Some of the best people out there. Yes, doctors save lives, teachers mold minds and policemen protect us all. But advertising people are interesting and crazy and wonderful. Since graduating from college, I have worked in four cities for two radio stations and five ad agencies. And I am happy to say that I am still friends with people from each stop along the way, except the first (I blame a combination of me being 22 and the uniqueness of Reno Nevada circa 1974 for that). Think about that. 40 years, thousands of miles apart and I still have strong connections. That is the power of this industry. It is populated with amazing people you always want to know (and will, regardless of where you live).
    • Keeps you young. Because we need to stay on top of the changing culture, people in advertising tend to think younger than the date listed on their driver’s license. That is because we need to understand a wide range of target audiences. If you are 30 and working on retirement communities, you need to understand affluent 50 year olds. Conversely, if you are 55 and are working on financial services for military personnel, you need to know about 25 year olds. I always tell the story of a phone call I received about 20 years ago from my then teenage nephew.  Matt: “Aunt Deb, who is Trent Reznor?” Me (without missing a beat): “Lead singer Nine Inch Nails”. Matt (speaking to someone in the room with him): “See, I told you she would know even though she is old.” I have long forgiven him for thinking that someone in their late 40s was old.
    • Clients who let you think out of the box. Over the years, there have been a handful of clients willing to look beyond the expected and explore the new. Clients who said, “why yes, we should pull out a small portion of our budget to test something different. If it doesn’t work, we’ve learned something and really haven’t lost money”. These are the clients who are a joy to work with. They are always looking to be better. And in the process, make you better.
    • Widened horizons. Advertising is one of the last bastions of entertainment. And I will admit, I have been the beneficiary of some pretty great opportunities. Great trips (Iceland! Bermuda! Ireland!), amazing meals, cool tchotchkes. But more important than the “things,” are the people along the way who have exposed me to great bands, books, art, etc. I am a much better person for knowing people who have a sense of wonderment of the world around them (and not just their limited business world). I will always circle back to these people to keep my life fresh.
  • The Bad
    • Technology has changed this industry, and not always for the best. I will try not to sound like an old fart, but technology (for all of the positive aspects) has ruined advertising. The immediacy of technology makes it almost impossible to sit back and think. People want answers and want them now. Technology is making media a commodity. More and more decisions are based on the lowest CPM.  Technology has eliminated the need for human contact. I miss the days of the negotiation. Sitting across the table and working with media companies to craft a great solution.  And technology allows for no “off hour”. I cannot tell you the number of vacations that were interrupted by answering emails, participating in conference calls and doing business that honestly could have waited a week (we’re not curing cancer here, folks). We’ve allowed technology to control our life and not the other way around. 
    • One of my biggest pet peeves revolves around clients who can’t separate their personal opinions from their customers' habits. Too often money is wasted with “buy this station because this is the one I listen to” thinking. Yes, it is your money, but it is my experience that wasting it isn’t the best business model. The most egregious was when I was instructed to purchase a single outdoor board that just happened to be on the CEO's drive home. 
  • The Ugly
    • I can say that in the decades I’ve spent in this business, there were only two totally unredeemable people who have crossed my path (both clients).  One was the CEO of a major retailer. He micromanaged everything in his business based on his personal opinion. He questioned our recommendation for a national cable buy and demanded that I defend it in front of him and his minions. I was able to so because my recommendation was based on facts and not opinion. When the grilling was over, he looked at said minions and said: “I hope you learned something” (he could never be wrong). The second was a client who based his media buys on who took him on the best trips and gave him the best stuff.  He had the gall to suggest that I not include a specific magazine on the buy because they didn’t take me out to lunch enough. I was so offended that I had to be talked out of immediately quitting. The idea that I did things in exchange for stuff was abhorrent to me. It was difficult working with him because I could see he judged everything I did on his moral compass (or lack of one). But these are two bad apples in a really large crate of great folk.

So, it is time to go. It has been a good ride and I will miss a lot of what makes advertising so exciting. 

I leave you with the great Johnny Cash.